1 of 4
2 of 4
3 of 4
4 of 4
Growing up in the small town of Sandia Texas, Royel Aguilar was no stranger to working hard to create something new. “My dad was a mechanic, so I started doing mechanic work at the age of eleven. Bought my first car when I was 15 years old, and I was rebuilding engines in high school,” Aguilar explains. “I was about two months from my high school graduation when I quit school and decided that I needed to go to work. My uncle had a mechanic's garage in Corpus so I worked over there for a couple of years.”
After years of learning various trades, Aguilar’s entrepreneurial blood kicked in and he started his own business. “I was doing construction, a lot of welding, fence work, some electrical, plumbing, wood work, you name it,” he recounts. Along with his day job, Aguilar had a passion for making wine and a knack for cooking, which friends and family of the distiller will say led to Wild Rag’s creation.
Just six months ago Aguilar and his wife, Lupita, combined their skills and passions to create the South Texas Distillery that is now home to Wild Rag Vodka. This homegrown South Texas vodka has literally been built from the ground up. While Lupita handled the legal work that goes into getting a distillery off the ground, Aguilar was building the tasting room piece by piece, and after approval, created a recipe for the first eight barrels of vodka. Aguilar’s sister-in-law, Cecilia Casas, drew up the first sketches of the Wild Rag Vodka logo. “We knew we wanted Texas on the logo no matter what, but my sister actually came up with the idea to have the bandana, also known as a wild rag, on the state of Texas with the point of the bandana pointing to Sandia,” Lupita recounts.
In congruency with keeping the distilling operation as local as possible, Aguilar uses ingredients from the Valley and Louisiana. “They were doing a sugarcane based wash, in really only two places. The sugarcane is grown in the Valley, and it usually goes to Louisiana to be refined and distributed. We use a semi-refined granular sugar, it’s not something you’re going to find in your kitchen,” Aguilar states.
When it comes to the highest quality of vodka, Aguilar relies on taste and scent to tell him when he’s distilled a quality batch. Aguilar says, “You’re looking for smoothness. You want it to go down with ease. You don’t want it to burn you. Different parts of the world, overseas, their vodka tastes more like they like to feel the burn of it. United States is different. They enjoy the smoothness of it. Our main focus is to get the smoothest vodka possible. Scent is important too. The tasting process is a constant, learning process every day.”
“Royel won’t put out a batch if he doesn’t think it is good. He has thrown out huge batches before, because they weren’t up to his standards,” Lupita remembers.
Aguilar thought about taking a distilling class but ultimately decided against it. “Everything I’ve ever done in my life I’ve learned to do on my own, trades and skills I mean, this is going to be the same thing; I want to keep this [distilling] the same,” he explains.
Vodka distilling in comparison to other spirits occurs relatively quickly. Aguilar walks through the steps, “From fermentation through distillation, bottling and everything, we’re looking at about 20 days. Anywhere from 12-14 days is fermentation, after that is distillation, which will take you about 6 days. After that you are filtering, blending, and bottling. For each barrel, we get about 20 bottles of vodka.”
Along with being purely Texan, the allure of the South Texas Distillery, Aguilar explains is, “We are truly hands-on, the entire fermentation, distilling, labeling, and bottling, has all had our hands on it. Every bottle cap that you remove, I’ve put my hands on.”
What began as just 8 barrels of fermentation has already expanded to over 20. Another expansion is expected soon as well as a new flavor to join the ranks of the original and cinnamon flavor vodka or “torch.”
Aguilar hopes Wild Rag Vodka tells the story that, “It doesn’t matter where you come from, if you set your mind to do something you can do whatever you want.” Cheers to that.